Vegetarians seldom to never get the star treatment at a Thanksgiving meal. They are the second-class feasters, pushed to a side, while the talk about turkey carries on endlessly.
Every now and then they would be asked if the buttery mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, roasted Brussels sprouts or pecan-studded sweet potato casserole is to their liking, and then the conversation would return to the preparation of the bird like that’s the only thing man has accomplished since inventing the wheel.
Before anyone starts justifying that the spuds and verdant-hued vegetables should appease the non-meat eaters, think about it: They are sides, and nothing more than delicious sides, people.
So how about switching things up this year? Make the growing number of vegetarians in your family and on your guest list feel special by serving a vegetarian main dish and keep the bland butterball of a bird to the side by tossing it in a wild rice-cranberry salad.
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By main dish, I am not talking about Tofurkey – that terrible faux meat play on turkey with a rubbery texture and insipid taste – but instead a stellar vegetarian one that will have everyone going gaga. Something that is a treat to look at and to eat, a conversation starter and immensely satisfying but won’t leave anyone groaning in pain.
Granted, the Native Americans didn’t greet the Pilgrims with kale or pomegranates, but I can guarantee that both camps will approve of the rustic and comforting kale slab pie.
Packed with plenty of kale and perfumed with dill and mint, it’s earthy in flavor and style and sits on a layer of cornmeal. Creamy feta and grated mozzarella cheeses soften the kale’s rough textures while red pepper flakes cut the greens’ bitterness by lending some heat. Pomegranate seeds not only brighten the slab pie’s appearance for a photo-op but also add a slight sweetness.
Even the health freaks will have a good word about the pie, as kale after all is the king of nutrient greens and is loaded with antioxidants. If kale isn’t your greens of preference, you can always make a spinach or Swiss chard version.
Because it’s a slab pie, it can feed many more hungry mouths than the average round pie, and you don’t have to deal with the mess or fuss of trying to crimp the edges or weave a lattice on top. Slab pies usually call for a jellyroll pan, but you don’t even need that here; just go with any large rectangular baking pan you have in your kitchen.
The pie is the perfect team player and can be made hours before serving, so it won’t have to compete for space with the sweet potato casserole in the oven. All it needs is to be warmed at a low temperature in the oven along with the other sides about a half-hour before the meal.
After the grand meal, not only will you have the vegetarians saying thanks earnestly but also the kitchen cleanup crew – for there won’t be anything left to put away.
Kale Slab Pie
The slab pie can also be made with Swiss chard or spinach. Let the slab pie sit at least for 30 minutes after baking so that the cornmeal crust can set and the flavors of the greens and herbs combine.
2 pounds kale leaves with short stems
Salt to taste, divided
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 bunch scallion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground pepper to taste, divided
3 cups skim milk
2 cups fine cornmeal
2 cups feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup pomegranate seeds, for garnish
Blanch kale leaves and stems in salted boiling water for about 4 minutes. Transfer wilted greens along with stems to a bowl of cold water, then drain and squeeze out moisture. Chop whatever longish stems attached to the leaves to small slices; set kale set aside in a bowl.
Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a skillet; add onions. Cook, stirring, until tender, about 8 minutes.
Add scallions and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in kale, dill and mint. Add red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste, and combine well. Remove from heat and let kale mixture cool.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease 13-by-9-inch rectangular pan with remaining oil (1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon).
In a medium saucepan, bring milk to a simmer over medium heat. Add salt to taste and slowly stream in cornmeal (so it doesn’t lump up) while stirring with a wooden spoon.
Stir until mixture is thick, like polenta. Remove from heat and spread the mixture in oiled baking dish with wooden spoon or spatula.
Add feta and mozzarella cheeses to kale mixture; lightly combine well. Spread kale mixture evenly over cornmeal crust in an even layer.
Cover slab pie with foil loosely and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until top is slightly brown.
Remove from oven and allow to sit for 30 minutes.
Garnish with pomegranate seeds on top before cutting.
Makes 12 servings.
– Arthi Subramaniam